WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The CEO and part-owner of the New Zealand Breakers apologised to fans on Tuesday after the struggling pro basketball team were rocked by off-court incidents this week.
The Breakers, four-times champions in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL), stood down shooting guard Glen Rice Junior on Monday after the American was charged with assault less than two weeks after arriving as a replacement player.
Hours after Rice Jnr’s indefinite suspension, New Zealand media reported that police met Breakers forward Tom Vodanovich at Auckland airport following a report of disorderly behavior on the flight home from a game in Perth on Sunday.
Breakers boss Matt Walsh, whose leadership has been under heavy scrutiny after his recent clash with NBL officialdom, said the buck stopped with him.
“If there are Breakers fans out there that are hurting, I take responsibility for this,” he told Sky Sports News.
“If they need an apology from me, I’m sorry it didn’t work out with Glen. I’m sorry that we’ve had these issues but I fully believe in what we’re doing and we’re going to get there.
“We’re going to get there, I promise, we’re going to start winning some games and order will be restored,” added Walsh, whose team have lost seven of their opening nine games.
Rice Jnr, the son of three-times NBA All Star Glen Rice, was arrested and charged with assault following an incident at an Auckland nightclub last Thursday and faces a court appearance on Wednesday.
After initially backing him as “innocent until proven guilty”, Walsh said on Monday that new information had come to light that required the 28-year-old former Georgia Tech basketballer be removed from the team.
“Regardless of the outcome of Glen’s court appearance, there is no denying he has let down the club, our fans and the New Zealand public after we gave him this lifeline,” he said in a statement.
Walsh also confirmed New Zealand international Vodanovich was intoxicated on the plane home after mixing sleeping medication with alcohol.
He was not charged by police but issued a public apology.
“I am mortified to have embarrassed the club and myself on the flight,” Vodanovich, who said he could not remember the flight, said in a Breakers statement.
“I am particularly upset to have contributed to the perception there is a bad culture at the club, when it absolutely is not the case.”
Walsh said Vodanovich would be punished in due course.
The Breakers boss was unable to attend the away game against the Perth Wildcats having been suspended two games and fined for a verbal clash with NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger following his team’s defeat at South East Melbourne Phoenix on Nov. 9.
“These kind of hiccups are likely always going to come up,” Walsh said of the difficult week.
“This won’t be the last issue … I’m sure at some point I’ll be sitting here saying, ‘hey, I messed up’ or ‘somebody on our team messed up.'”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)